Priest admits stealing $2 million from church

A priest who enjoyed exotic vacations and drove fancy cars pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $2 million ( Ђ 1.59 million) from his parish, a judge said.

As part of a plea bargain, the Rev. Joseph W. Hughes agreed Thursday to return the money to the Church of the Holy Cross in Rumson, New Jersey, and pay $120,229 ( Ђ 95,480) in taxes.

Superior Court Judge Bette E. Uhrmacher will determine whether Hughes should be fined when he is sentenced next month. Prosecutors plan to recommend that Hughes serve five years in prison.

The priest's lawyer and the prosecutor would not comment because of a gag order imposed by the judge.

Hughes, who led the parish for 16 years, had set up a secret account in a local bank and deposited church money into it, prosecutors have said. He also used a church credit card for personal reasons.

His pilfering, which extended over a seven-year period, was discovered during a church audit triggered by anonymous telephone calls and letters to the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey, about the priest's spending habits.

The clergyman was banned from performing ceremonies or wearing his collar in public after the allegations became known, reports the AP.

I.L.